Nikola Jokic clinches second straight NBA MVP title

Nikola Jokic plays for Denver. And for Serbia.

Both places can once again lay claim to the same status: for the second straight season, they’re home to the NBA’s most valuable player.

The league announced Wednesday night that Jokic has won back-to-back MVP awards. The Nuggets big man is the second straight international player to win back-to-back after Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo – from Greece – was honored in 2019 and 2020.

This is the first time international players have won the award in four consecutive seasons. Canadian Steve Nash went for Phoenix back-to-back in 2005 and 2006, followed by Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki for Dallas in 2007.

International players finished 1-2-3. Jokic received 65 first place votes and 875 points from the jury of writers and broadcasters. Joel Embiid of Philadelphia was second with 26 first place votes and 706 points; Third was Antetokounmpo with nine votes in first place and 595 points. Devin Booker from Phoenix was fourth.

“I don’t know what else you can say about Nikola at this point,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said in a statement. “He kept improving his game, he kept proving people wrong when they doubted him and he’s consistently the best player on the floor night after night.”

The 27-year-old Jokic averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists on a team missing two top players in Jamal Murray (ACL) and Michael Porter Jr. (back) and won 48 games . Nicknamed the “Joker,” the do-it-all center also created a new category by becoming the first NBA player to eclipse 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in a season.

He’s now a member of another rare club – the 13th player to win back-to-back NBA MVP awards. He joined the likes of Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, LeBron James (twice), Nash, Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Moses Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (twice). Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell have each won the award for three consecutive seasons.

Jokic was also surprised when he drove into his stable in Serbia on a two-wheeled cart behind his horse. Malone waited to hug him. The same goes for President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly.

“It was a really emotional moment for me,” Jokic said in an interview with the TNT show. “Great.”

Jokic was drafted by the Nuggets with the 41st pick in the 2014 draft. His selection that day flashed at the bottom of the television screen during a Taco Bell commercial.

He has come far. He’s eligible for a supermax extension that could guarantee him nearly $254 million over five seasons starting in 2023-24.

All this will dawn on him – later.

“Probably when I’m old, fat and grumpy, hopefully I’ll remember that and tell my kids, ‘I used to be really good at basketball,'” Jokic said.

James also extended his record – 19 years in the league, 19 years with at least one vote on the MVP vote (one vote in fifth place). No one has received votes in more seasons, or obviously more consecutive seasons, than James.

Despite their disastrous season—the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t even make the play-in tournament—James’ numbers continued to be among the best in the league. The 37-year-old averaged 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, moving past Karl Malone for second on the all-time scoring charts and in position to overtake Abdul-Jabbar as the all-time leader of the season .

James has seen the game change over his 19 seasons. He was part of the last US basketball team not to win Olympic gold – the team that went to Athens in 2004 – and even believed at the time that the game was going from strength to strength around the world.

Jokic is further proof of that.

Nor does he demonstrate it himself. Antetokounmpo and Embiid more than did their part. Dallas’ Luka Doncic (fifth in MVP voting) is already a EuroLeague champion and looks certain to win at least one NBA MVP award before he’s done.

They are the new class of international greats, following in the footsteps of Nowitzki, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Pau and Marc Gasol, Yao Ming and others. Debate will rage over which international player is the best – either now or ever – but Antetokounmpo (two MVPs and a championship) and now Jokic (two MVPs after being selected in the second round) have certainly entered the chat .

Canada became champions in 2019 when the Toronto Raptors won the NBA title. That night, the Canadian flag was drenched in champagne, Pascal Siakam danced with the flag of Cameroon around his shoulders, team president Masai Ujiri gave interviews with a Nigerian scarf around his neck, and they were just a few of the Raptors with deep international connections.

It’s not inconceivable that five international players could be lottery picks in next month’s draft. And there’s hardly anyone who doesn’t see Frenchman Victor Wembanyama – a 7ft 2 player with guard skills – as the safe No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft right now.

These newcomers will want to be like Jokic. They’re going to want to be the MVP, and he’s just the latest name to show these kids from around the world that it’s possible.

“If it’s not me, then who is it?” Jokic replied when asked if he thought he was the longest of all long-range shots. “There was no way I was going to come into the NBA and play basketball from this city and from this stable. Now I play basketball in the best league in the world and play at a high level.”


AP basketball writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.


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Bobby Allyn

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